Katherine was a beautiful, perfect baby for the first year of her life. Then, without warning, she changed forever. She started crossing her eyes. She cried at night for hours at a time and could not be soothed. She stopped saying words, stopped crawling, and began what would become a lifelong habit of wringing her hands. Hospital visits and consultations with doctors offered no answers to the mystery. Soon Katherine slipped away to a place her mother and father could never reach.
In Keeping Katherine, Susan Zimmermann tells the story of her life with her daughter Katherine, who has Rett syndrome, a devastating neurological disorder. Writing with honesty and candor, Zimmermann chronicles her personal journey to accept the changed dynamic of her family; the strain of caring for a special needs child and the pressure it placed on her marriage, career, and relationship with her parents; the dilemma of whether Kat would be better cared for in a group home; and most important, the altered reality of her daughter's future. A story of personal transformation that reminds us that it isn't what happens to us that shapes our humanity, but how we react, Keeping Katherine shows the unconditional love that exists in families and the gifts the profoundly disabled can offer to those who try to understand them.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
December 27, 2004
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Keeping Katherine by Susan Zimmermann
Our stories shape us. They give us our songs and our silence. When they are full of joy, they allow us to soar. When they are full of pain, they allow us to journey into the darkness of our souls where we meet ourselves, sometimes for the first time. They destroy us and allow us to rebuild. We must share our stories. They are our gifts.
Before dawn on September 2, 1979, contractions began. I lay in bed with three pillows piled under my legs and drank hot tea. Paul brought me a bowl of honeydew and ran a bath. I sucked the juice from the melon. Maybe it's false labor, I thought. The baby's due date was two weeks away. I had just turned twenty-eight. I'd been married for five years.
I soaked in the old tub with ornate feet and took deep, slow breaths. Leaning back, I rubbed my hands across my tight belly and thought about the child I didn't know, but already adored.
Six years earlier, Paul had spotted me across the aisle in the Yale Law Library, during our first month of law school. I sat, wearing overalls and a T-shirt, with one leg slung over the arm of the chair and my face buried in a book. My dark hair curled short around my head. I looked like a country kid visiting the city and probably seemed young and naive compared to many of the students who, unlike me, actually wanted to be lawyers. I dove into law school but never knew quite why I was there or where it would lead.
I'd gone to Woodsfield High School, a small school in southeastern Ohio. The French teacher didn't speak French. Band, football, and cheerleading took priority over academics. I'd gone on to college at Chapel Hill in North Carolina, where I'd done well, but Yale was different. Students seemed to talk and think faster. Many already had law firm resumes and big plans for their futures.
When I started at Yale, my dad took me aside and said, "Susan, there will be a lot of people there who are smarter than you, more brilliant, better educated. You can make up for a lot with plain hard work. If you plan on nintey-nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration, you'll do fine."
One day early in the fall of 1973, I walked through the main corridor in sweat clothes. Paul stopped me and asked if I'd like to run. We headed out Prospect Street past the Forestry and Divinity Schools to Whitney Avenue.
At first I viewed him as a friend and running partner, nothing more. When I entered his dorm room, Bach or Vivaldi played in the background. He wore thick black glasses and had a Charlie Chaplin mustache. He went to church on Sundays and spent his spare time reading G. K. Chesterton and Samuel Johnson. He'd gone to a Catholic military school in D.C. and on to Harvard. One hot day, after a long run together, he grabbed the end of his
T-shirt, took off his glasses, and wiped the sweat from his eyes. I began to fall in love with him in that brief moment before he put his glasses back on, as he squinted blindly, revealing an unexpected vulnerability.
The following May, with baroque music playing, we were married in Yale's Dwight Memorial Chapel, a small Gothic church with well-scuffed wooden floors, stone walls, and stained-glass windows. I wore a veil of Belgian lace from Paul's grandmother and carried one long-stemmed white rose.
The summer after we married, Paul and I lived in D.C. and worked at U.S. Customs writing legal opinions on how U.S. tariffs applied to a bizarre array of imported goods. Every morning, we bicycled to work, a seven-mile route that wound through Rock Creek Park and past the D.C. zoo. It gave us a fresh start to the day. Paul insisted I wear a motorcycle helmet--a heavy black thing with red lightning strikes on the sides. Paul wore a hockey helmet with a lot more ventilation. By late afternoon, when we trekked home, every cool breath had died. Car exhausts puffed. Heat lay over the city like a hairnet. I rode irritated by the commuters who pointed at me from their air-conditioned cars, feeling like I had a sauna on my head. Most days, by the time we got to the house, I had a headache and a bad attitude.
It was a tug-of-war summer. We were in love, but also strong-willed, which made the necessary compromises of marriage difficult. There was an up-and-down quality to time. The morning bike rides were our daily dose of freshness. The evening rides brought out the tensions.
After graduating from law school in 1976, the Rockies and sunshine drew us back to Denver, where Paul and I had spent a previous summer as law clerks. We worked at downtown firms and spent many weekends bagging peaks in the high country.
Paul hiked for the sheer adventure. He liked to bushwhack as much as I liked a trail. He always searched for circle routes and never minded rambling around for half a day. For me, there were too many "circle routes to nowhere," but Paul always got us home safely.